Dear friends of Pixel Dreams,
In these first days of spring 2020, we’ve witnessed unprecedented changes. I believe now is the time for deeper reflection and connection. As we wrap up the first quarter of the new decade, consider this letter an accountability report to you: what we’ve been up to, what’s next, and what’s possible―thanks to your contributions.
First and foremost, thank you for your support over the years; September marked a decade! Thank you for choosing to invest your time and attention in us, and in many cases trusting your business with ours. You are the most collaborative clients and supporters a group of creatives can ask for. In more ways than you realize, you continue to help shape Pixel Dreams to be a dream workplace.
We look onward to many more years of exciting collaboration, and lots of laughter along the way.
Kal Sayid Mokhtarzada
Chief Education Officer ― on behalf of the Pixel Dreams Team
Table of contents
How your contributions support our:
Purpose & mission
Our massive transformative purpose (MTP) is to spread wisdom and raise human intelligence and consciousness. This became our company’s purpose through many years of reflection and asking questions. I remember vividly the morning at What-A-Bagel on Spadina (a local breakfast joint) when my partners and I pledged ourselves to this purpose. The big question of ‘how’ has been our company’s ongoing pursuit ever since.
- Defining Intelligence
- The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills
- The capacity for critical thinking, reasoning, learning, understanding, planning, creating, decision-making, and problem-solving.
- Defining Consciousness
- The state of being awake and aware of one’s internal and external happenings
- The awareness by the mind of itself and the world
- The recognition that perception of something is not the reality of that thing
- The ability to observe emotions without being taken over by them
We all have problems worth solving. There are many pressing challenges locally and globally, and becoming more pressing than ever. We believe the keystone ― the most important ― initiative worth pursuing is to grow our minds. Einstein’s quote summarizes this well: “The significant problems in our lives cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them.” Imagine what problems would simply disappear if we could think better. Imagine the impact in our communities if people could think just a tad better.
- Intelligence alone is not enough
There are highly intelligent people who compute and reason their ways into building weapons of mass destruction, shipping addictive and destructive consumer products, or committing economic and social fraud. There are also highly intelligent people who have destructive relationships with others and themselves. Some suffer from anxiety, depression, poor physical and/or emotional health, or lack any sort of direction or purpose in life. Simply, intelligence is not enough.
- Consciousness alone is not enough
There are many highly conscious people in the world. You can find some living in mountains, caves, deserts, communes, and camping in Algonquin Park. You may even know one lounging on a sofa, puffing the magic dragon, preaching for peace and serenity, while leaving societal burdens to others to carry. Some cannot balance a cheque book, hold down a job, lead a team, build a business, or create value for others. So what good is one’s consciousness, if it benefits no one else?
We believe that many of our challenge -personal and global – will be solved faster and with ease as we continue to grow our intelligence and expand our self awareness. Thus, our purpose to increase intelligence and consciousness.
How: internal focus
“The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health.” ― Patrick Lencioni
In 2016 we began building Vital, a people analytics platform to better track and measure individual and team health and performance.
- Personal awarenessAwareness from daily reflection improves both clarity and quality of life. On Vital, we:
- Record daily wins and losses
- Journal and share daily reflections
- Track the things important to the individual
- Personal accountabilityThis is the second accordion
- 3rd AccordionAccountability from tracking and measuring improves both motivation and performance. On Vital, we:
- Track goals, habits, virtues, vices, or anything important (sleep, meditation, exercises, reading, learning, etc.)
- Have options to share sone or all tracked items with teams
- Access to personal and team dashboards (future: more data visualization, insights and predictions)
Learning has been important to our company since day one. We call our culture of learning-centric funs and adventures FRIDUCATION, bringing together Friday (fun) and Education (learning).
- Read more
- Minimum requirement of 1 book/month
- Mini docs/videos/discussions at lunch time
- Presentations, workshops, hackathons, debates
- Field trips, retreats, parties
- Documentaries, curated shows
- Attending, hosting, & sponsoring events (more on this below)
- A few initiatives (some already born, some still in incubation)
- Vital platform (see above)
- Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go (VR experimentation)
- Puppets in Space (educational show)
We invest in external coaches for our team, and provide internal coaching to our juniors.
- Read more
- Strategic Coach (Lan & Kal, Sep 2018 to present)
- Strategic Coach (Trevor & Sarah, Sep 2019)
- Private coaches (2018)
- Sandler Sales (2017)
- EOa (Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerate) (2016-2017)
How: external focus
Supporting clients, partners, families and friends
We openly share our culture of learning and growing, along with the tools we use to support it.
- Consulting & strategy workshops
- Branding, marketing, sales, etc.
- Operations, system and process management, etc.
- MTP, mission, vision, culture, etc.
- Content sharing & giving
- PD Library (open to community)
- Book reviews and recommendations
- Givings of books and artworks
- Presentations & events of all kinds
- Newsletters, blog posts, and social posts
Supporting extended communities
We raise ourselves to raise others. As we pursue knowledge and wisdom, we promote what we find valuable. We contribute time and money to those pursuing missions complementary with ours.
- Donating to mission-driven organizations
- Toronto Symphony Orchestra
- Afghan Institute of Learning
- The Epoch Times
- & more
- Hosting, sponsoring, and teaching at community events
- Girls Learning Code
- Kids Learning Code
- Tech Spark
- Ryerson U
- Northview Heights
Creative ideas without execution is useless. We believe that a well-organized structure and systems can remove obstacles, and shorten the path between an idea and its reality. Suffice to say, we invest much of ourselves into building (and upgrading) our creative machine. Welcome to our backstage operations.
Kaizen is a business philosophy referring to intentional continuous improvements of all functions throughout the business, and involve all employees from the front-line workers to the CEO. Kaizen deeply resonates with us, as a group of creative strivers always looking to get better and become more effective.
- Read moreKaizen (改善) is the Sino-Japanese word for “improvement”. Kaizen also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain. It has been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life-coaching, government, and banking.
By improving standardized programmes and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste (lean manufacturing). Kaizen was first practiced in Japanese businesses after World War II, influenced in part by American business and quality-management teachers, and most notably as part of The Toyota Way. It has since spread throughout the world and has been applied to environments outside business and productivity.
- Relevant booksScrum, Getting Things Done, Essentialism, Extreme Ownership, Willpower Doesn’t Work, The Checklist Manifesto, Principles, Sprint, Running Lean, Scaling Lean, among many others.
Systems & practices
Systems and frameworks are like tools. A tool offers little value if used incorrectly, and no value if not used at all. The following are tools we use daily, weekly, monthly, and a few for the right occasion.
- Methodology: Scrum & Sprints
The approach PD takes to tackling tasks is not the old Gantt chart-water-flow-technique where everything is supposed to flow neatly from the top-down. This outdated system has considerable procedural flaws and has been replaced with a much more collaborative Scrum framework that allows for greater problem-solving, productive, and time-saving strategies. Sprints involve short, time-specific periods when a scrum team works to complete a set amount of work. Both systems collectively facilitate an agile, lean, methodology which increases the efficacy of collaborative teamwork.
- Methodology: Pomodoros
Named after the Italian word for ‘Tomato’, the classic kitchen timer, this productivity technique encourages people to alternate deep work and essential break in precise intervals, i.e. for every 25 minutes of focus, take a 5-minute break, or for every 50 minutes of work, take a 10-minute break. After every This technique increases ‘flow’ state, minimizes interruptions and procrastination.
- Methodology: Radars
The best way to describe Radars is to call it ‘Google Sheets on steroids’. It allows everyone within a company to link to one another. This allows for a high-level overview of business operations, HR, timesheets, projects, etc. It was customized and built in-house but inspired by Ray Dalio’s seminal work: Principles for Success.
- Personality Assessments
- DiSC: The DiSC assessment is a tool used to measure people’s behavioral differences. The acronym stands for personal characteristics: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness.
- Kolbe A: This is designed as an Instinct Test. That is, it doesn’t measure intelligence, personality, or social style. Instead, it measures the instinctive ways people take action when you strive to accomplish a task.
- Predictive Index: This is a psychometric test designed to identify 17 “Reference Profiles” that create a behavioral map for different types of people.
- Meeting: MMM (Monday Morning Meeting) p1
On the first workday of the week (usually Monday, but occasionally, Tuesday) the PD Team meets at 8:00 am to discuss what each individual did over the weekend. This provides each worker with the unique opportunity to discuss in an often light-hearted, funny, but sometimes serious manner, what happened to them over their weekend. It provides the team with a structured way in which everyone can connect which in turn, humanizes the work environment and provides a more complete understanding of each employee.
- Meeting: MMM p2
After catching up on the happenings of the weekend, we dive into project plans, timelines, tasks and goals. This is an all-hands meeting providing an opportune time (beginning of the week) to discuss and debate our strategy for the week.
- Meeting: Daily Standups
The concept of the Standup is taken from Jeff Sutherland’s book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. At approximately 4:00 pm on every workday, the entire PD team takes time to ‘stand up’ from their work stations and meet in a common area to discuss daily and weekly initiatives, strategies, catch blockers, etc. Occasionally, Standups will include Operations Meetings.
- Meeting: Weekly Wrap-up
On the last day of the week, we meet to present and summarize our weeks. Time is devoted to what was learned, re-learned, and unlearned. As well, team members are given time to express gratitude and appreciation for specific activities, information, or other coworkers. An event called ‘Friducation’ usually follows the weekly wrap-up which allows PD team members to take part in new learning experiences e.g. presentations, music, movies, field trips, etc.
- Meeting: Weekly Leadership
The PD Leadership Team meets on Tuesdays between 7:30 – 8:00 am as an opportunity to discuss matters and issues which have not been covered during previous business hours.
- Meeting: SOTN
The State of the Nation address is similar in scope and kind to a ‘Town Hall’ meeting. It allows the CEO to discuss important matters regarding Organizational Clarity by focusing on the direction, philosophy, and impact of Pixel Dreams.
- Platform: Asana
Asana is a project management system [we believe] that is inspired by David Allen’s book: Getting Things Done. Although management at PD has reviewed many systems, we believe Asana is superior due to its capacity to designate clear ownership of tasks assigned as well as its cohesion with the Scrum framework of completing tasks.
- Platform: Slack
Slack is a great communication platform reducing reliance of email. It allows the team to have discussions around projects as well as non-related things in their designated channels. Slack also encourages non-private and transparent conversations (unless the subject matter requires privacy) in real-time which is efficient, cost-saving, and productive.
- Platform: Harvest
Harvest is a time management system that allows our team to accurately log time allocated to specific tasks. Keeping track of how much time is devoted to specific tasks allows for more accurate management of team activities. This, in turn, provides insight into productivity and performance to both the clients and PD management.
- Platform: Google Apps
We love how easy Google Apps integrates with so many systems and software, as well as providing teams the ability to collaborate live on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. We use many Google Apps products from Calendar to Gmail.
- Platform: VITAL
Vital is team analytics platform that has been built in-house, Through Vital we are able to track virtually any type of data point, and for good reason. Referred to as Pearson’s Law: “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.” In the spirit of Kaizen, PD is constantly focused on ways to increase and monitor self and collective improvement.
We thrive to thinking clearly and critically. So much that we don’t leave this to chance, actively applying strategic thinking tools and wisdom to projects, initiatives, and day-to-day operations.
- Strategic Coach® toolsStrategic Coach® is the entrepreneur coaching program we’re a part of since September 2018. We frequently use the following tools:
- DOS: Dangers, Opportunities, Strengths
The DOS Conversation® provides clarity to our clients’ biggest dangers, opportunities, and strengths. Once written out and seen visually, we are better able to create strategies to eliminate or minimize dangers, capture and capitalize on opportunities, and maximize the strengths necessary to deal with said dangers and opportunities.
- Strategic Circle
A problem solving and planning tool that helps you overcome complexity by providing a framework for transforming obstacles into strategies to achieve results.Defining the goal and imagining the desired result paints a picture of your vision for your mind to grasp. You can then consider any obstacles in the way. These obstacles are the crucial raw material for achieving your result. Once you’re clear on the specific obstacles, you can then strategize each one and take action.
- Impact Filter™
The Impact Filter is a powerful tool to clarify and focus our thinking. By being intentional, we give ourselves and others direction about exactly what we want to have happened and why along with the success criteria.
- Experience Transformer
This is Strategic Coach’s post-mortem tool, capturing the learning from both positive and negative experiences, so we can repeat the former and avoid the latter.
- DOS: Dangers, Opportunities, Strengths
- Critical thinking doctor in residenceTo further strengthen our thinking capability, in 2019, we brought on board Dr. Christopher DiCarlo. Dr. DiCarlo is a former Visiting Scholar and professor of philosophy and critical thinking at the University of Toronto, University of Guelph, Laurier University, Harvard University, and most recently, Ryerson University. He is an author of several books on critical thinking, including a favourite of ours, How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass. The Doctor’s role at PD is Critical Thinking Advisor and Writer – one to help steer our MTP forward in getting more people to increase their own I+C. We have ambitious plans for 2020, including the possibility of offering Critical Thinking for Business Leaders for our clients, partners, and close community. We recently purchased the domain RaisingIC.org, to provide more transparency and report to the public on our efforts, as well as to scale impact beyond our immediate community.
While we are proud of what we have done over the years, there are always more ahead. We count on the compounding effect of ‘doing the work’, to raise more intelligence and consciousness, and to ship more value to our supporters, their communities, and the world.
- VITAL enhancements & upgradesWe’ve been capturing over 3 years of data. We’ve made significant improvements to the platform, including making the mobile experience smoother. Most recently, our technology partner Datarockets surprised us with a major update: Data visualization! We say surprised, because the awesome team of Datarocketers were secretly working on these updates as a gift to me, Kal, for my 40th birthday. Thank Pavel, Dima, and friends!
- RaisingIC.orgWe hope to encourage other organizations to join our efforts. This site will be a platform for highlighting people, teams, organizations, and governments who are doing amazing things and increasing human potential.
- Critical Thinking in Business SeriesEntrepreneurs, CEOs, and business leaders are influential to both people and the community. By supporting their efforts through providing workshops on critical thinking, we expect that the increase in their I+C will impact their teams, families, and communities at large.
- Critical thinking in prisonsWe believe that our prisons are outdated, archaic, and do not support the larger goals of our communities and country. We plan to invest our time teaching critical thinking tools to some of our most needed people: those in prisons. We believe that if individuals had the tools necessary to think better, we would decrease recidivism rates while increasing the quality of life of those who are incarcerated, as well as those getting out of prison.
- Resources on our websiteAs the shoemaker’s kids go barefoot, our website is due for an overhaul. We plan on providing comprehensive tools, templates, and research on a spectrum of business-related topics from project management, process and system building, to leadership, culture, and team building.
- PD LibraryA project on hold, we intend to finish what we started. Many people in our community come to our HQ to borrow from our growing library of non-fiction bests. We hope to build a comprehensive online library providing readers with available titles, themes, and reviews.
- Client PortalWe want to equip our clients with the tools they need to better their projects and businesses: brand and campaign asset management, downloadable resources, work requests, engagement history, invoice management, etc. The upcoming portal will bring even more value to the clients we serve.
At Pixel Dreams, culture is our #1 strategy. This means that the success of PD is highly dependent upon how we work (and live) cohesively as a team. While culture can take shape accidentally, we are deliberate in cultivating ours by design.
The values at PD are standards by which to live and work. The following eight values are standards to which we hold ourselves accountable. They are prioritized in order, with each value serving as a foundation to the one after and each complimenting the one before.
- Be Grateful
- Take Responsibilities
- Clean Toilets
- Study Hard
- Be Stronger
- Be Better
- Have Fun
- Ship Value
It is important to be healthy in these key areas: Physical, Spiritual, Mental, and Emotional (PSME). We monitor these health lines individually and share them among our team. Sometimes, we get to witness the whole team jumps in to support someone when that person isn’t doing well in one area or another, simply because of open sharing. We also have an uncommon workplace, where our team gets access to a fully equipped gym, sauna, yoga studio, as well as yoga mats and weights, besides nutritious lunches prepared on-site every day. In the past couple of weeks working from home, there are certain things we miss about being together physically. Fortunately, a combination of communication channels is keeping us in touch with each other’s health. Until we are physically together, again.
We take eating together very seriously, so much that it is a company policy that team members do not eat at their desks. In fact, we cook lunches in our kitchen, and almost always eat together. Collectively ‘breaking bread’ together provides an opportunity to bond and enjoy each other’s company. Team members contribute to meal preparation, cooking, and cleaning. Like an Indy pit crew, our team’s ability to work together in a tight space during a short lunch hour also translates to how we collaborate and communicate everywhere else. Working from home currently has us eating at different times, yet, as far as I can tell, each of us is respecting the ‘rule’ of eating away from the work computer, to pay attention to the food we’re fortunate to be eating.
Expanding the mind is an essential ingredient in the recipe for creativity. Trips – no matter distance, duration, participation, or sometimes strategic substance – not only stretch the creative muscles and deepen creative insights; but also, connect and synchronize individuals with lasting bonds. From half-day outings, full-day field trips, weekend retreats, summer getaways, to workcations and away-missions, from local, regional, to global destinations, what matters most is for us to make time for them, no matter how busy. With the recent necessity for physical distancing, we’re looking into virtual trips together. We will keep you posted with interesting ones.
You are likely to have been to at least one of our parties, events, or gatherings. We are serious and militant about work; because we get to indulge in a lot of play and laughter. Our team is never shy from hosting parties and having good times, no matter how absurd of an idea it could be. Parties are a great excuse to see our favourite people, meeting new people they bring along, while being able to flex our creative muscles in theming, planning, and executing wild events. In 2019 alone, we hosted at least five official soirees, among the frequently impromptu hangs on Friday evenings. In 2020, we are looking forward to hosting even more parties and hangouts (once physical distancing is no longer necessary, until then, we’re having fun together virtually!).
As I wrap up this note to you, I want to thank you again for your support and attention. We’re living in interesting times. As we move towards a new normal, some things will never be the same again. And some things will always be the same. For me, a few in the latter category include the importance of family, community, and health. And with that, I wish you and your loved ones health and prosperity through and beyond these difficult times.
Kal Sayid Mokhtarzada
Chief Education Officer ― on behalf of the Pixel Dreams Team